MIT engineers have developed a cheap, compact robotic fish that can go where no man (or underwater vehicle) has been able to go before. The pint-sized robofish, developed by Kamal Youcuf-Toumi and Pablo Valdivia y Alvarado, could potentially be used to detect underwater environmental pollutants and inspect submerged boats and oil and gas pipes. Another plus is that they don’t smell.

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The new MIT robofish is far from the first robotic fish–MIT’s four foot long Robotuna, built in 1994, had 2,843 parts and six motors. Youcuf-Toumi and Valdivida y Alvarado’s fish is less than a foot long, contains only 10 parts, and has a single motor. Since the new fish uses fewer parts, it’s cheaper to build. And that means there is minimal risk if a robofish gets stuck or destroyed in an underwater structure.

The University of Essex also recently designed a robofish, but it uses rigid components to mimic the normal motions of fish. In comparison, the MIT design uses polymersthat stiffen the tuna-like robofish only in specified areas–an ability that adds to the fish’s speed and maneuverability.

The robofish require 2.5 to 5 watts of power from an external source, but scientists hope that one day the fish could be powered with an external battery. Next up for the robot masterminds at MIT: building robotic salamanders and manta rays.


Via PhysOrg